Columbus, a romantic drama that uses architecture for more than just composition, shows how cinema goes hand-in-hand with other artistic expressions
Jin (John Cho), a translator living in Seoul, South Korea, travels to Columbus, Indiana after his father, a professor who was studying Columbus’ modernist buildings, has suffered a stroke. There, he meets Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young local woman in love with architecture. After Jin’s arrival, they end up meeting and starting a friendship that not only brings them to the center of the story, but also highlights Columbus’ architectural landmarks.
The movie is Kogonada’s debut feature film, but for a beginner he manages to deeply explore topics such as death, separation, family relationships, and aspirations in a subtle and unique way. The movie uses Columbus’ modern architecture to create stunning compositions that synchronize with the characters through their meaning.
In one scene, Casey takes Jin to see where she went to high school. Jin looks up at the building and gives an insight on its style: “Brutal.” If the ambiance in Columbus were not so relevant, that comment could have passed unnoticed. However, as the story unfolds, the viewers come to understand that Casey’s life during high school, as well as the style of the building are connected in their roughness, their brutality.
The characters’ romance is another nice touch from Kogonada.
Jin and Casey develop a deeper connection that is very different from what is often portrayed in movies. Their affection leaves no place for sexuality, yet their intimacy is acquired through their shared emotions and impressions. When they sit in front of Columbus City Hall, whose architecture features brick beams that extend from either side but do not meet in the middle, the building represents the connection they have, more emotional than physical. For that, it is hard not to fall in love with Columbus, but to praise the movie and not to talk about the cinematographer Elisha Christian would be a mistake. The way he beautifully frames the characters and their surroundings tells more about them than the actual characters sometimes say about themselves.
Sensitive in the way it addresses Casey’s and Jin’s personal challenges, Columbus is a passionate story that takes advantage of the city’s impressive architecture without taking away the characters’ spotlight. If anything, the architecture in Columbus is a character too.
Running Time: 1h 44m